How to Create an Anniversary Publication That Will Get Read : Peddie School

Chosen because Peddie eschewed the massive hardcover history and created something appealing to today's readers. "I wanted it to be a piece someone could pick up, take a few bites, and return later for a bit more—I called it a 'tapas' approach," its editor says.

InspirED was intrigued by the compelling anniversary publication of Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ that was developed with today's readers in mind. We asked Wendi Patella, Director of Publications and Media Relations, about the genesis, production, and results of this piece, hoping to help other school marketers who might be creating a history of their school.

What is “150 Faces of Peddie?”

As Peddie approached its sesquicentennial, a committee led by the Office of Marketing and Communications was created to plan the 150th anniversary, including deciding whether there would be an anniversary publication.

In 1964, the school published an exhaustive hardcover book on the school’s history, The Peddie School’s First Century. Not wanting to repeat the same text-heavy, history-book style for the 150th, we decided instead to present the school history by telling the stories of the people who shaped—and were shaped by—the school.

How did you select the 150 faces (and omit others)? Who had final say?

There were some obvious faces that anyone who knows Peddie could have guessed—Thomas B. Peddie, our namesake; Walter Annenberg, class of 1927, who gifted the school $100 million in 1993; and Rev. William Wilson, one of the Baptist founders, who watched the school foreclosed upon, sold his own property in order to purchase the school for $10,000 at a sheriff’s sale, and promptly sold the school back to the trustees for 25 cents.

 

The only predetermined faces were those of the 16 heads of school. The remainder of the list was generated by pulling names of faculty, staff, and alumni from the 1964 history book, reading old alumni magazines and school newspapers, and accepting names and suggestions from any source who would listen. We added a function on the alumni page of our website where anyone could “nominate” a face of Peddie.

We wanted roughly 50 faces from the first 50 years of the school, 50 from the middle years, and 50 from the most recent half-century. The toughest list was the last 50—those who were remembered by our current alumni base.. There are simply too many great teachers remembered by our alumni to include them all.

We said from the beginning that longevity alone didn’t get you into the book. Our standard question was whether a faculty member left a legacy. The toughest day was looking at a list of 153 names. Those final cuts to get us to exactly 150 were especially painful. Some extraordinary people who gave of themselves selflessly to this school were among those who are not profiled.

When we started the project, 150 sounded like a big number. In the end, we could have filled the book two, three times over. The best we could do was profile 150 faces and hope that our readers would believe us when we maintained that each face represented countless others just like them.

The final list was presented and approved by the headmaster.

There are places, publications, events, and other “non faces” represented in the 150. Why were they included?

Trying to tell a 150-year history through people’s stories was challenging and required some creativity. Our school motto, translated from the Latin as “We finish our labors, only to begin anew,” was included as a face of Peddie; those words speak volumes about our school’s history, mission, and culture. There were certain iconic buildings, school symbols, and non-human faces that simply seemed impossible to exclude—for example, the Peddie-Blair rivalry, the oldest prep school rivalry in New Jersey.

 

Above all else, I love a good story, so some faces made their way into the book because they allowed me to tell a good yarn. We have a building from 1857 on campus called the Octagon House, and local lore claims it was the scene of an unsolved murder in the late 1800s. Resident faculty who have lived in it have hinted that it is haunted. It is a face of Peddie; who could resist?

 

Who researched the piece? Were your archives in good order or was it a daunting task?

The book was produced as a special issue of our alumni magazine but required far more complicated research and writing than our typical 60-page magazine. For a few weeks in the summer, we had the assistance of an alumnus who volunteered by doing some research. The remainder of the research and writing work was done by the three professionals in the Office of Marketing and Communications.

Our school archives live in the attic of our alumni house. Some documents are very well preserved—the ones you would expect. Records of previous headmasters are filed neatly. Yearbooks are arranged meticulously for each and every year.

But just as we didn’t set out to tell the same old stories Peddie already knew, we discovered that the deeper we dug in the archives, the more we unearthed. And we found some things that Peddie didn’t even know it had. A handwritten letter of resignation from the school’s first co-principals from 1868 was folded neatly inside an envelope as pristine as if the current headmaster had penned it. It was tucked among recent papers in a box that easily could have been mistaken for garbage.

 

The most daunting task was pulling myself away; I could easily have gotten lost for days in the dust of that attic.

Who wrote the piece? Did you limit the word count on each vignette?

As the editor of the alumni magazine, I was the lead and wrote the majority of the vignettes. The remainder were written by my two colleagues in our office. I never established word counts but wanted each vignette to tell a story concisely. I knew from a layout standpoint that some faces had to be elevated in importance, and those received two-page spreads.

As a guideline, I wanted the book to be a piece someone could pick up, take a few bites, and return later for a bit more—I called it a “tapas” approach.

How many did you print and how did you distribute them? Was there a digital version? If so, how did you drive people to it?  

We printed 12,000 copies and mailed them for free to all alumni, friends, students, and parents. An electronic version in posted on our alumni page.

It has an interesting cover that required the skills of a great printer.  Who came up with the idea?

The cover of the publication has a warn leather graphic and is coated to feel like leather. The symbolism of the leather perhaps is lost on those who don't know our history but is a reference to our namesake, Thomas B. Peddie. Peddie made his fortune selling leather satchels to the Union Army during the Civil War and as a devoted Baptist, came to the school's rescue by giving it $25,000 in 1872 during one of its darkest hours. The Board of Trustees promptly named the school after him.

How was it received among your constituents?

The reaction was terrific. We expected to hear from many about a favorite teacher or classmate who wasn’t included. There were surprisingly few of those.

We received several letters from alumni who told us they had read it cover to cover and received many requests for additional copies. One alumnus who had a close, nearly seven-decade relationship with the school as a student, alumnus, and trustee wrote, “I thought I knew a fair amount about Peddie, but I learned there was so much more I didn’t know.”

Exactly what we set out to do.

You can view the entire "150 Faces of Peddie" in the Portfolio.